FIGAROVOX INTERVIEW : The trial of the accused in the case of the torched police car [18th May 2016, Paris] has been interrupted by militants of the extreme Left. Laurent Bouvet, Professor of Political Science at the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, analyses the motivation and ideology behind these radical groups.
Why such indulgence towards the violence of the extreme Left?
First published in French 21st September 2017 in Le Figaro
Alexandre Devecchio interviews Laurent Bouvet
FIGAROVOX : The trial of the accused in the case of the torched police car has been interrupted following pressure from militants of the ultra-Left. Journalists were also manhandled and insulted. What do you make of this?
Laurent BOUVET : It reveals, as did the violence regularly committed during last year’s demonstrations by militants of the extreme Left, their conception of the political process: a purely ideological conception, according to which violence has been legitimised.
❝Anything different from them, anyone who doesn’t agree with them, is an enemy, fascist, handmaiden of capitalism, etc., therefore to be opposed violently.❞
Anything different from them, anyone who doesn’t agree with them, is an enemy, fascist, handmaiden of capitalism, etc., therefore to be opposed violently. Police officers, like those they assaulted in this car, are to them the defenders of a system that must be destroyed. In their eyes, everything is permitted. Similarly with the judiciary and the press, who participate in the system.
They are few in number, but very “noisy”, highly visible and therefore very effective, since they can irrupt in a demonstration and reappear anywhere, as during the first day of this trial.
FIGAROVOX : Is this left-faction that describes itself as “anti-fascist”, paradoxically, totalitarian?
Laurent BOUVET : Were it ever to take power, it would become so very quickly. We can say this now because there are sufficiently convincing examples from the past. The legitimisation of political violence to bring down a regime and take power is a well-known and classic exercise, one even put on a theoretical footing by some revolutionary thinkers. The big problem, in general, is that once they’re in power, the violence doesn’t stop. There are always enemies to be eliminated: those who oppose the new regime, of course; but also enemies defined by “what they are” and not by what they do: class-enemies, enemies “by race”, enemies by religion, etc. This is how totalitarianism takes hold.
❝We’re dealing here with the “petty functionaries” of the revolution, rather than desperadoes with nothing to lose.❞
Fortunately, today’s extreme Left will not be able to take power. Both because we guard our collective memory of totalitarianism, and because we’re dealing here with the “petty functionaries” of the revolution, rather than desperadoes with nothing to lose. This violent extreme Left has no social base.
FIGAROVOX : What is the sociological profile of these militants?
Laurent BOUVET : Little information is available on the defendants in the present trial beyond that obtained by journalists, but generally speaking, recent studies of radical groups of the extreme Left show that their members come mostly from the youth of the depressed lower middle class (i.e. whose level of education is above that of the employed), which feeds their militancy. We find few or no young recruits from the working class.
The question that arises, and which unfortunately is little or poorly addressed by the social sciences, is that of their ideological motivation, of the construction of their world-view, of what drives them to join groups that are prepared to use violence.
The processes at work amongst these militants are rendered opaque by contemporary sociology, which casts all explanation of social (and political) phenomena in social terms.
Once you’ve explained that they’re rebelling against a system that rejects them (because it doesn’t “offer” them the desired or hoped for employment), it is difficult to understand why some of them, a very few, choose this militant path by wrapping their commitment in a revolutionary or anarchistic narrative forged in earlier times: of which the least that can be said, is that they are completely incapable of rejuvenating it or even of bringing it up to date.
But now we arrive at a greater difficulty: that experienced by the social sciences, political science in particular, in grasping the reality of what is at work in our society, because of the discipline’s refusal or rejection of certain analytical tools. This applies to the extreme Left, as for example to islamism.
FIGAROVOX : Geoffroy de Lagasnerie has published in Libération an article defending these violent demonstrators. Does this show that the ideology of these small groups is spreading beyond the tight circle of militants? What does this say about the Left these days?
❝On the side of these active militants of the extreme Left, you find an assemblage of people who support them or affect to do so, safely installed behind their desktops.❞
Laurent BOUVET : Classically, on the side of these active militants of the extreme Left, you find an assemblage of people who support them or affect to do so, safely installed behind their desktops. I say “classically”, because it has always been the case.
Revolutionary romanticism, above all when laced with a violence of which they are precisely incapable, has always been highly prized amongst certain intellectuals. Beyond that, it’s worth noting that these militants have their supporters, more or less open, on the political Left, in the labour unions, in associations, and in the press as well.
These are worrying signs of a disintegration of the Left, of both an overwhelming intellectual torpor and a retreat from reality. I could paraphrase Lenin by saying that this leaning towards gauchisme is the childhood malady of the Left.
As for the intellectuals, [Lagasnerie] is emblematic. You could even say that he makes a business of radical leftism, having weighed in like this over several years.
But beyond this model case, it’s indispensable to understand the fascination of gauchisme, which projects itself onto a large part of the Left. The permanent call to “revolution”, the legitimated use of violence against the “system”, the denunciation of all dissenting thought, the disqualification of every political adversary accused of being of the extreme Right, etc., all of this is widespread, well beyond the little groups in question here.
As such, at the heart of the Left there was a complex in relation to an avant-garde that was always further to the left, always closer to an inaccessible truth. We are dealing here with a type of Platonism.
A striking example of this tendency to indulge the radical Left was observable in vivo at the time of Nuit Debout.
For several weeks, researchers, journalists, politicians… explained to us that this rally of some hundreds of people in the Place de la République represented an exceptional political phenomenon: that in the heart of Paris, a “new politics” had arisen; that the Left was in the process of regenerating itself, and that the political landscape was going to be turned upside down.
They were, by the way, often the very same people who now defend the accused in the trial relating to the incendiary attack on the police car! Hours of broadcasting and entire pages in the newspapers have been dedicated to analysing the least aspect of this political “phenomenon”. They knew what was eaten at Nuit Debout, the way they voted on even the most insignificant motions at the “citizens’ assemblies” convened in public, what the most determined of the militants were wearing, etc. We knew everything.
❝If only a quarter of the energy put into Nuit Debout by political scientists, sociologists and the media had been diverted to En Marche!, we should now have a better understanding of contemporary France, in political terms.❞
Result? Not much either new or particularly interesting, on the admission even of some of the activists in these weeks of “mobilisation”. During this time, we heard little or nothing on the very rapid development of the great political movements that would play a decisive role in the presidential election, and especially not on the one [En Marche!] that would provide the new president of the Republic.
If only a quarter of the energy put into Nuit Debout by political scientists, sociologists and the media had been diverted to En Marche!, we should now without doubt have a better understanding of contemporary France, in political terms. This is the problem with this kind of indulgent attitude towards the radical Left, which is so widespread.
FIGAROVOX : Two years after the 11th January [Charlie Hebdo attacks] when the police had been applauded, how do you explain the return of “anti-cop hatred”?
Laurent BOUVET : Obviously, the French who applauded and supported the police after the attacks continue to do so, even if less openly than during the great demonstration of 11th January. That hasn’t changed.
On the other hand, what has changed is that the small minority of those who harbour “anti-cop hatred” have remobilised: on the occasion of last year’s demonstrations and of several incidents involving police officers or gendarmes — I’m thinking here of Sivens, the Traoré case, and that of Théo.
This remobilisation has resulted from the intersection of three distinct but concomitant phenomena these last two years: the protests against the state of emergency and its direct consequences for certain militant sub-cultures; the classic hard-left violence towards the police during demonstrations against the labour laws [loi El-Khomri]; the mobilisation of the associations and the media against “police brutality”, some of whose victims are young people of immigrant background.
Throughout the “left of the Left”, this confluence of effects has crystallised a very violent discourse against the police and against the state itself, accusing it of killing off liberty, being racist, etc. Which has had several consequences.
First of all, to unchain and legitimise physical violence, which relates to the case of the torched police vehicle; then, for the radical Left, to relegate the struggle against islamism to second or even third place; finally, to feed the ethnocentric discourse of hatred for France that we find amongst the “de-colonised”, the “Indigènes de la République“, and at the heart of political Islam and the numerous associations it has spawned (CCIF, Baraka City, Lallab, Bonds Blog…).
This radical focus, fuelled and fanned by the media (obviously, I’m thinking here of Médiapart!), by researchers and intellectuals, and by political figures — notably from la France insoumise, now poses a political question for the Left, beyond that of the legitimisation of violence we’ve spoken about earlier.
The question is that of the capacity, primarily of a movement like la France insoumise (but also of personalities like Benoît Hamon), to counter such developments. As far as many of our fellow citizens are concerned, they are instead actually obscuring all reflection and all argument of any seriousness taking place on that side of the political chessboard. Which is always harmful to democratic debate. §